Nearly one million passengers have used the latest face scanning technology at Britain's airports, the Home Secretary, Alan Johnson announced today.
He confirmed the figure while visiting the state-of-the-art facial recognition gates at Gatwick Airport's North Terminal. More than 950,000 passengers have used the secure self-service gates which scan biometric details and then check them against a range of watch lists before allowing the passengers to enter the country.
The facial recognition gates offer legitimate passengers the choice between queuing at traditional, staffed passport controls and using the self-service gates. More than 50,000 passengers have used the gates at Gatwick since their introduction in August 2009.
The gates take seconds to scan each passenger's face against the digital photo recorded in their passport. If there is a match, the e-passport gates open, to allow the traveller across the border. The gates are staffed by UK Border Agency officers who examine any passengers rejected by the gate, as well as making manual checks where appropriate.
The technology has already proved popular and successful at Birmingham, Manchester, Stansted, Cardiff and Bristol Airports.
Speaking on his visit, Home Secretary Alan Johnson said:
"Facial recognition technology speeds up the passage of legitimate travellers through immigration control, allowing UK Border Agency officers to focus on high risk travellers and goods. Our investment in the latest technology, which I have seen here today at Gatwick, means we continue to be at the forefront of border security.
"We have also introduced fingerprint visas, checking those wanting to enter the UK against immigration and crime databases, and compulsory ID cards for foreign nationals. In addition, the e-Borders system allows the UK Border Agency to count people in and out of the country and target terrorist suspects, criminals and would-be illegal immigrants before they can reach the UK."
Facial recognition is just one of many technologies at use within Gatwick Airport to secure the border. Other technology includes Cyclamen, which detects radiation in cargo at the border and Braun Conpass, a full body scanner which enables the UK Border Agency to see if a passenger is carrying illegal weapons or drugs on their person.
Since January this year, technology used in customs checks at ports has helped in the seizure of illegal drugs worth over £157 million.
On his visit, the Home Secretary met frontline UK Border Agency staff, as well as detection dogs responsible for stopping smuggled goods such as drugs, cash and endangered species. Since January this year, UK border Agency officers working at UK Ports and Airports have seized in excess of 447 million smuggled cigarettes - representing a potential loss of more than £87 million in tax revenue and illegal drugs worth over £212 million.
Andy Flower, managing director for London Gatwick Airport, said:
"The introduction of the e-Passport system at London Gatwick Airport will provide a more efficient process for passengers entering the country
"The Home Office has enhanced the use of technology which will help speed people through immigration controls, whilst keeping our borders safe and secure."
NOTES TO EDITORS
1. The facial recognition gates can by used by all passengers from the UK and the European Economic Area (EEA) as long as they are aged over 18 and hold a biometric e-passport. These biometric e-passports have been issued since 2006.
2. Gatwick Airport handles over 34 million passengers a year.
3. Airports across the UK deal with over 100 million arriving passengers each year. More than 87 per cent of travellers to the UK are UK/EU/EEA citizens (source: Control of Immigration Statistics 2006).
4. The UK Border Agency was launched on 3 April 2008 by the Home Office, establishing a single force to protect our borders, control migration for the benefit of the country, prevent border tax fraud, smuggling and immigration crime and make quick and fair decisions on asylum claims.
5. The UK Border Agency's ten-point delivery plan for 2009, which includes the roll-out of facial recognition gates, can be found on the following link.http://ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/siteconte ... liveryplan
6. The UK Border Agency's strategy document A Strong New Force at the Border can be read at the following link. http://ukba.homeoffice.gov.uk/siteconte ... theborder/